Rookie mini-camp insider: day one

DALLAS - The Cowboys officially opened their preseason Friday when 27 players — 21 rookies and six players with one year of experience — convened at Valley Ranch for the first two sessions of the team's rookie mini-camp.

• Flex and flexibility: For a fullback built like an army tank, fullback Asaph Schwapp (5-11, 251) is remarkably flexible. During team stretches, he appeared more limber than many players who are leaner and lighter than he is, and when a Stephen McGee pass sailed on him while he drifted out into the flat on a screen, he was able to jump, twist and reach behind his head to haul it in.

• Pick it up: So much for easing into things on the first day. Very early in the morning session, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett stopped the team passing drills to impress upon his new players the need to do everything at a faster pace and higher level of intensity, shouting "nobody's running!" The message seemed to get through, as the pace picked up for the rest of the morning session and carried over into the afternoon workout.

• Catch of the day: Former Virginia wide receiver Kevin Ogletree (6-0, 196) had an interesting day. He had several drops, but also had the catch of the day, when he raced down the left sideline. The pass sailed a little behind him, and he turned and reached back to haul it in with just his right hand … nearly falling out of bounds as he kept both feet in bounds.

• Take aim: While demanding high intensity from his players, Garrett also got after quarterback Stephen McGee (6-3, 225) early on for his accuracy. McGee fired a low pass to wide receiver Manuel Johnson (5-11, 189) — which Johnson reached down and caught — only to get called out by Garrett, who pointed out that the route called for the ball to find Johnson 12 yards downfield. By Garrett's estimation, McGee hit Johnson a couple of yards short, and although Johnson's grab was impressive, Garrett appeared less than satisfied with McGee's throw. Again, the message appeared to get through, as McGee was very accurate for the rest of the day, throwing mostly short and intermediate passes.

• Compare and contrast: McGee took a little over half of the snaps in the morning drills. At first glance, McGee moves well, gets back in his drop and sets his feet quickly, and clearly is adept at throwing on the run — one of the skills owner Jerry Jones said after practice made McGee an appealing draft target to the Cowboys. Fellow quarterback Rudy Carpenter (6-2, 217), on the other hand, appeared a little choppy with his footwork getting back in the pocket, but has a stronger arm. On deep throws, in particular, Carpenter's passes shot through the wind, while McGee's sometimes fluttered a little on longer throws.

• How special: One of the stranger sights Friday came when the players — all players — broke into tackling drills. It's just not that frequent that you get to see a kicker, like rookie David Buehler (6-2, 227) — which is pronounced "BEE-ler" — hitting a quarterback, as he did when he chased down Carpenter. They weren't really hitting, as the team worked in helmets, jerseys and shorts, without pads, but even in a simulating drill, it was an odd sight.

• Got it covered: Two of the linebackers Dallas drafted, Jason Williams and Stephen Hodge, were lauded in the days after the draft for their speed and coverage skills, and they didn't disappoint Friday. Both ran extremely well and did a nice job covering running backs in passing drills. Williams showed an excellent burst on screen plays, almost picking off a couple of passes, and Hodge probably was the star of the day, as head coach Wade Phillips pointed out that he "had a shutout" in the afternoon session, meaning not one pass was completed against him in one-on-one drills (which, as Phillips pointed out, is a drill in which the receiver has a distinct advantage, since he can go wherever he wants and the defender has to react and follow). Hodge is extremely smooth and fluid in coverage, and comes out of his breaks very quickly when the intended receiver changes direction.

• Make the easy plays: Shortly after making his one-handed grab on the sideline, Ogletree got safety Mike Hamlin (6-2, 214) to bite on a double move, leaving the safety in his wake … only to drop a perfect pass with nobody within several yards of him.

• Don't give up: Hodge not only fared well in coverage, he also showed a nose for the ball. When tight end Rodney Hannah caught a pass on a crossing route in front of Hodge, the rookie from TCU chased him down, stripped the ball from Hannah and headed back upfield, drawing howls of approval from teammates and secondary coach Dave Campo.

• What's wrong with this picture? At the start of the afternoon session, the players broke up into position groups to limber up before the bigger group stretch. Working with the defensive backs were Hamlin, cornerbacks DeAngelo Smith (5-11, 194) and Mike Mickens (6-1, 186) … and Buehler. Part of it was because, as the only kicker in camp, Buehler had nobody else with whom to warm up. But he also said that the team has talked about using him in other non-kicking roles. The recipient of national attention after he outran all three of his heralded USC linebacker teammates (Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews) in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and bench-ressing 225 pounds more times (25) than Maualuga (who did 21), Buehler is a versatile athlete who played some linebacker in junior college and was recruited to USC as a kicker and safety. He played some backup safety and fullback for the Trojans, and said Friday the team is considering using him to cover on punts, and perhaps find a role on some other (return) special teams.

• This isn't college: To a man, the players seemed ecstatic to put on their Cowboys uniforms for the first time, which consisted of the helmet, jersey, shorts and shoes that were various combinations of blue, silver and white. Linebacker Brandon Williams, however, stood out, sporting cleats of red and black — the colors of his college team: Texas Tech.

• Interested observers: Among those in attendance to get their first glance at the Cowboys' newest additions were tight end Martellus Bennett, who stopped by to watch the morning session, and receiver-turned-radio host Michael Irvin, who went on the field to visit with owner Jerry Jones. When Ogletree failed to make a one-handed grab of a pass on the sideline — nearly running over his new boss in the process — Irvin went on the field to talk to the rookie wideout. They talked for a few minutes, after which Ogletree got back into the rotation to run another route. When he was done, he came back to Irvin for another short conversation that included Irvin demonstrating footwork and hand placement, and then tapping the side of Ogletree's helmet, presumably underscoring the need for concentration. Shortly thereafter, Irvin made it a point to visit with the other receivers, Johnson and Julian Hawkins (6-2, 215).

• The laws of physics still apply: The players broke into two teams for special teams drills, with quarterbacks McGee and Carpenter serving as makeshift return specialists. The two biggest blockers near the middle of the field — tackle Robert Brewster (6-4, 325) and guard Travis Bright (6-4, 321) — were instructed to retreat to the same spot, grab hands and take off as a tandem in one direction or another, depending on which return play was called. After failing to connect closely enough for the coaches' liking on a few plays, Brewster and Bright got it right, and promptly steamrolled Manuel Johnson, who tried to get to the ball by going around the pair, who have a combined 457-pound advantage on the rookie wideout from Oklahoma. When he saw Brewster and Bright coming at him, Johnson stopped … but the big guys couldn't, burying their new teammate. They laughed, and helped him up, while Johnson appeared appreciative of the gesture … and grateful to still be in one piece.

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